I knew from my ride stats during my SS2000K on “Little Mango”, my 2012 CBR125R, that I could maintain sufficient pace to complete a 50CC (Melbourne to Darwin in less than 50 hours) with enough time to sleep for a few hours somewhere along the way. The trouble was I had blown up the motor in Little Mango twice attempting to ride it 2000kms in 24hrs before successfully completing one. Each engine event saw me standing on the side of the Hume Hwy for four or so hours before being rescued by the NRMA and one of those was only 8kms from Gundagai!
So did I think it was a good idea to ride up the very remote Stuart Hwy at a 33% successful SS2000K pace in the dark, with no phone reception, thundering 50 metre long road trains, cows, sheep, camels and kangaroos lining you up to crush me and my little orange bike into oblivion? No, I almost didn’t.
I was discussing these thoughts with a mate, Bill, who out of the blue offered to tag along in his ute. “If the bike blows up we’ll load it into the ute and drive home”. I thought he was joking. I gave him plenty of opportunities over a period of time to change his mind but he was committed and up for the adventure. A good plan, Bill, however doing a solo 50CC in a ute didn’t seem too sensible either so it was back-burnered . Then Mrs Wom agreed to a solution – Mrs Wom! She didn’t really know that much about Iron Butt Riding so what better way to see what we Iron Butt(ers) did than to bear witness to a ride that was on the pointier end of lunacy.
We all agreed to keep it secret – there was nothing much to talk about if I blew motor number three. I didn’t want to put the mockers on it or put myself under too much pressure. There were way too many things that could go wrong on a ride like this.
The stars finally aligned for the three of us so at 6am last Saturday morning. Little Mango, fully serviced and with a new rear tyre, was already loaded on to the ute for the transport leg to Melbourne.
Mrs Wom took the flying kangaroo down there to sort out a really nice Airbnb in St Kilda . I kept Bill company in the ute for the short 1000km drive south. We arrived about 6pm, had some Thai food, hit the sack by 7pm with the alarm set for 11.15pm. Here’s Little Mango ready to go and tucked in.
The alarm went off, the first thing noted was that it was pissing down outside.
Because of the rain it took a little longer than planned to get out the door and the 12:01am start from the United Westgate South servo in Port Melbourne turned into a 12:20am damp start. With a receipt and witness documents signed I jumped on the bike and noted immediately that the heated grips that were tested before leaving home were no longer working. Oh well, not a deal breaker. Here’s the start
So with the clock started it was out into the rain again and over the Westgate Bridge with the “Ute Team” following. It was a pretty clear run out of Melbourne and I had plenty of practice letting cars go past on the freeway and eating road spray. Little Mango doesn’t go 100kph very often, particularly in the wet. I also had a strict rule for this ride – Do Not Go Over 8,500RPM Ever! This strategy worked for me in my successful 2000k and I wasn’t prepared to push the little bike any harder than that.
I rode past Ballarat, Ararat, Horsham and stopped to put fuel in the bike from the 10 litre jerry I was carrying on the bike. In the spirit of Iron Butt riding I carried all the fuel I used during the trip on the bike – the ute was not used as a tanker. I also carried the things I would expect to need for the ride in the tank bag – snacks, sunnies, chargers, tyre pressure gauge, a puncture repair kit, eye drops, you know the stuff. I did allow myself the luxury of having the ute transport some toiletries and a change of base layer that if I was going solo I’d have done without and just been stinky for the ride. Anyhow…
With the rain continuing and no heated grips I got quite cold. By the time I stopped at Bordertown SA to fill up the bike and the jerry I was shivering visibly and took a very unusual moment early in a ride to have a large hot chocolate. I scoffed down the warming drink and left the ute at the servo. Every second counts on a ride like this. Here I am ready to leave cold old Bordertown.
The sun came up some time after that and I started to thaw a little. At Tailem Bend I turned right to Murray Bridge. I found a train to slow me down and
then rode some wonderful winding roads through the Barossa area via Mount Pleasant, Williamstown, Gawler and on to Mallala where I took the Dublin Road back out to the A1. I took this route to avoid Adelaide. I’m not sure I’d bother if I did it again however it was winding, with beautiful rolling hills. A great section to ride if you weren’t on a 125 trying to keep a decent pace. I did however manage to leave the ute behind somewhere along there. I assumed they would eventually catch me.
They did so as I was finished filling the tank from the jerry on the side of the road in Port Wakefield (10hrs). Some riders on cruisers stopped there too thought I was nuts emptying a jerry into the 125 while parked directly opposite a service station. I wasn’t wasting any time taking my helmet off and lining up to pay for fuel unless I had to! Experience tells me my jerry system is faster. I couldn’t make the bike go faster so my only opportunities to make up time were finding efficiencies where they were available.
The next stop was Port Augusta, right on 12 hours riding done and about half way for the day. I pulled into the Coles Express to fill the bike and jerry and take a short break. The short break room was closed for repairs so some time was wasted riding across the road to the BP to take care of that. Ready to go I left the ute at the BP with Bill and Mrs Wom holding snacks and drinks. They caught me 10k’s or so up the Stuart Highway. It was pretty much a straight run now with only 2,700k’s or so to go. Only? Pfft.
I rode past the salt lakes, Pimba, Glendambo and somewhere during this part of the ride the ute passed me. I reckon it must have been pretty frustrating sitting behind the 125 with its speed varying all over the place depending on whether I was heading up or downhill. So rather than risk flattening me with cruise control on they set a pace for me. In fifth I could do 90kph, 6th was 100kph at about 8000rpm. They were my “go to” speeds and the gear I was in depended on the slope of the terrain, the amount and direction of the wind and how focused I was. It was going to be a long day that was for sure.
After Glendambo another jerry stop was required then I continued to the next fuel stop, Coober Pedy. But not before a pic of the icon.
Mozzies were horrendous there and I was really starting to feel the effects of being folded up on the 125 for 18 hours. For those of you wrho don’t know me, I’m about 194cm tall and about 100kg and definitely not a crotch rocket jockey. Me riding this bike has been described unflatteringly as looking like a dog making love to a tennis ball.
Mrs Wom had some Panadol and Nurofen handy which I washed down with my first flat white for the day and a piece of banana bread. Another issue that raised it’s head was that my trusty sportsbike helmet wasn’t fitting properly and my jaw had come adrift. I opened my mouth far enough to bite the banana bread and after stuffing it in I could barely chew it. That was inconvenient and painful. So my muesli bars and sultanas were safe for a while and I needed to consider a different strategy for nutrition.
Marla was the next stop. The Iron Butt Association require an electronic receipt at least every 600kms. Alice Springs was the next fuel stop and it was more than 600k’s from Coober. Marla was the only option between the two to satisfy this rule. Marla is also a common rest stop for this 50CC ride. It’s a bit less than half the distance but with the higher speed limits in the Northern Territory the second day should still be shorter. The change in speed limit didn’t assist me in this ride, I decided to break the ride’s back and ride 2055+k’s before resting leaving a shorter day in terms of distance for the second leg. Here I am in Marla trying to smile.
So I fuelled up, grabbed the docket, had a flat white and once again left the ute in the driveway. It was well and truly dark by then and I only had 254kms to go of the planned 2055kms to a bed booked at the Erldunda Roadhouse.
It was really nice to have some company at the stops, quick chats, encouragement and the support was really appreciated. I commonly look for opportunities to ride along with others during parts of their mad rides to provide some company and support. I can’t understate how much it can help with things start to get really tough to have someone there.
I was also grateful for the opportunity to use the ute as a bull bar out there. Fortunately there didn’t seem to be much wildlife around but I was happier to let the very solid structure on the front of Bill’s ute deflect anything that might jump out than take it on myself. Memories of losing the whole right side of Little Mango in a roo strike on my last 2000k ride have not yet faded.
I became gleeful when I saw the 130kph speed limit signs in the Northern Territory. No I didn’t – it made no bloody difference to me!
At 2000km and some change and less than 24 hours from the start I pulled over, fired off a SPOT Message and took some photos of the Etrex, Odo etc. Now I have a 50% success rate at 2000k’s a day on the little Orange machine. Woo Hoo. Plan B completed.
Not too long later Anne was opening the gate at the Erldunda Roadhouse and we were all settling in for about 3.5 hours sleep. 2055kms done. My average speed for the day was 91.4kph and my overall average including stops was pretty much bang on the plan at 85.2kph. My top speed in a devil may care moment came in at 110kph.
The alarm went off at 4.20am local time and we were on the road, still in darkness about 5am. The weather was warmer than yesterday but there was still a chill in the air so I rugged up. Mrs Wom warned me that temps in the very high 30’s were forecast for Tennant Creek, that was going to be unpleasant. In the meantime a beautiful sunrise jerry fill was required on the way to Alice Springs.
With a full tank and jerry on the bike I tried to chew down a servo sausage roll at Alice Springs. The jaw wasn’t working and very painful so I gave up on it and sipped a servo flat white. While that was going on Bill took a moment to secure one of the mirrors on the bike that had made a habit of flapping about, thanks Bill, much better job than my usual slapping duct tape on it technique! I was hoping that was the only thing that might try to fall off during the trip. It was already warming up so I took off some layers and I was on my way, certain that once again the ute would catch and pass me.
This part of the NT is spectacular, amazing scenery, big skies, strange roadhouses, a visual feast. I rejoiced at the open speed limit signs and took a moment to go mad and let loose managing 109kph as my top speed for the day. With the ute in front setting the pace again made myself small and worked on ways to lessen the impact of the building cross winds on my progress. The winds weren’t too strong but were able to force 5th gear 90kph travelling when it got hold of me. At times where I caught up to the ute I used the opportunity to sit up and stretch for a while to try to keep the blood flowing to my extremities.
I did this section of the ride a bit tough, needing to stop for a walk and a Fisherman’s Friend. Bill and Mrs Wom warned me they also needed to stop for a while so I mentioned that Barrow Creek was up ahead and told them I’d just keep going. They later mentioned Barrow Creek was a little unusual.
Later I also managed to overtake one of only three 50 odd metre Road Trains passed on the trip. The ute was already around it. It was a very scary moment as I got near the front of it thinking that when I hit that rush of air it was pushing I’d be prevented from getting past the front of it and have to find a way to get back behind it. I selected a long straight, slightly downhill section and hoped I could accelerate faster than the truck and get past it. It was followed by an uphill that would slow us both down, hopefully the truck more than me. I made it by a Michael O’Hare.
The road trains are big out here and this one has only three trailers!
The day was really warming up. At Tennant Creek it was reported to be 38 degrees and I needed to de-layer as much as possible. Sadly the thermals I had on my lower half had to remain, no time to remove boots etc. I also had to take the armour out of the knees of my Latitude pants. The pressure on my knees from having them bent under the armour for most of the last 36 hours had taken it’s toll. They were bright red, somewhat swollen and had taken over from the jaw as my biggest worry. The combination of gloves, heat, sweat and holding Little Mango’s throttle pinned for extended periods of time also produced some blisters in my right hand. The Omni-Cruise fitted was helpful to allow me to shake out stiffness in the hand but I needed to use it sparingly to keep the revs in the optimal range.
At Tennant Creek Mrs Wom bought me a very tasty Roast Beef and Salad sanga that I somehow managed to masticate and swallow and some Powerade to top up the electrolytes. Somewhat refreshed I struck out again and left them at the servo. I took some Nurofen for the second time in the ride at that stop which gave me about 30 minutes relief from the knee pain for which I was grateful but with 800kms to go I knew the rest of the ride wasn’t going to be very pretty in that regard.
Then my GPS went flat, the powered mount had given up the ghost. Frankly I was surprised it had lasted that long but I really would miss the information it provided, some of which I use regularly to run mental calculations to check my levels of fatigue. Oh well, I could do without that and work off the Etrex while I could see it. Then I noticed that the airhawk was going flat…quite literally a bummer. At the next jerry stop I blew it back up and got about 30 minutes out of it before it was flat again. It was a slow stop as I gathered my wits and turned the determination dial up a bit more.
I’d been wondering for quite a while why my traditional roadworks holdups hadn’t occurred this trip. Then it was delivered! Mrs Wom knows how much I like taking pics of these and jumped out of the ute for a great shot!
By the time I arrived at Daly Waters with only 585kms to go I was apparently bright red and looking the worse for wear as a result of the heat and other inconveniences I was only just managing. The KLIM Badlands jacket I was wearing was nicely vented but air doesn’t get into the vents when you are bent over a tank hiding behind a little screen. I re-inflated the airhawk, had more Powerade, an iced coffee, some water and gave up on food for the moment. I was still on track in terms of the ride plan with only one jerry stop required before the finish. I felt I only had to hold out until dark and for it to get cooler and things would be better.
All these little things going wrong look like they were adding up to disaster, however they happen all the time to Iron Butt riders. An important part of the sport is being able to work through these things, accept what you can’t change and get on with finishing the ride.
After a deep breath I left Marla. and waved to the support crew. The ute caught up not too long later and I sat behind it as the sun went down. At Katherine it had cooled enough to be relatively pleasant. I broke a pie up and put it in my mouth and had a coffee, more Powerade and more water. I re-inflated the airhawk and took a moment to check with Bill and Mrs Wom that my calculations were on track and that barring any disasters I was going to make it to Darwin with time to spare.
I warned them that the roos were small but the cattle were abundant on the road ahead and off we went. Almost immediately we were held up by road trains and a paucity of overtaking lanes (the other two I managed to slip past). No problem, a small delay but time that wouldn’t be made up. I took the lead for a while in some winding fun bits. Apparently Bill was concerned Little Mango would blow up and spray metal and oil all over the ute. No such problem though, I didn’t break my rule and my top speed remained at 109 for the day.
Thankfully, there was a noticeable absence of wildlife on the road, except for scores of toads that made a nice popping sound if they couldn’t be avoided. I positioned myself back and well out to the side of the ute so I could see past it and use it’s lights so as to be able to avoid any road kill that might cause a problem. You either have to do this or stay in the wheel tracks and fly a bit blind. At one point something large and soft knocked my right foot off the footpeg. I still don’t know what that was. The road becomes less flat in that section so keeping the little bike humming along at a satisfactory pace and resisting getting overexcited and using too much throttle was difficult. The crew did a great job of driving so as to keep me in their rearview’s sight. The tail lights were comforting in the darkness. There was no opportunity to relax though, focus is the key.
At Adelaide River I really needed to stop for a while, unplanned but definitely required. There was panic within the troops worried that something had gone wrong only 110k’s out. The knees were incredibly painful, 700k’s on a mostly flat airhawk had taken it’s toll and I needed some calories to see me through the last 100 or so k’s. Despite the issues I was relaxed, chatty and confident of completing the ride. With the airhawk blown up to within an inch of it’s life off we went again.
50k’s from Darwin came the dual carriageway, almost there. We took the A1 all the way to the Shell Coles Express and arrived at 1:09am (Eastern Time) just short of 49 hours from the start at Melbourne. A docket, witnesses and the all important post-ride Cherry Ripe were acquired. Done and Dusted. Little Mango had made it and in much better condition than me.
After the formalities we found the Novotel, checked in and collapsed. There’s not much to photograph in the middle of the night in Darwin so here’s a pic of the ocean from The Boulevarde taken later that morning.
I am incredibly grateful to Bill and Mrs Wom for taking on the mammoth task of sharing this ride with me and driving all that way in the ute. Without their willingness to keep an eye on me, help me mitigate risks and stay safe I very much doubt I’d have taken on the ride at all. There are highs and lows in all rides and their encouragement, support, advice and company and good humour along the way made it easier to keep going at a couple of points it would have been easier to walk away from it. They also did a shared 50CC in a ute for heavens sake! Legends!
A huge buffet breakfast the next morning prior to Little Mango going back on the ute.Mrs Wom had business class booked on the flying kangaroo back to Brissie and then home. Bill and I had a slower paced road trip planned that saw us head back through Queensland stopping at Renner Springs, Winton and St George. Here’s a pic of the sunrise after Renner Springs
I also took a moment to go for a ride at Barkly Station which is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit on a motorcycle (or the next best thing).
And here’s Bill’s first visit to the QLD / NT Border near Camooweal.
What an awesome adventure this ride was! The total distance Newcastle to Newcastle was over 8,800kms in 7 days.
Lessons Learned on Night Right Bikes.
The jerry strategy was good however presented two problems. Each of the 7 or so jerry stops were about 5 minutes plus refill times. Stops of the side of the road were dictated by the range of the main tank (300ks) and then fuel purchases. “Things” had to wait until those stops or more time would have been lost. An auxiliary tank provides the opportunity to pick and choose where a intermediate stop might be, if required, between fuel purchases. A time saving of 35 minutes or more is possible using an aux over a jerry providing an opportunity for more comfort or more sleep.
Clearly getting the bike running properly fuelled in it’s cruising rev range and staying conservative with the throttle is a key to a successful Iron Butt ride on a pee-wee.
It doesn’t matter how hard you try, things will shake loose, break or stop working on little bikes during big runs. Expect it.
Know what you and your bike are capable of before you tackle a large ride on a small bike. I knew from the SS2000K and three SS1600’s on the 125 that a moving average of 91.6kph and an overall average of 85kph were achievable if I was efficient. That’s what I aimed for during the whole ride and that’s pretty much how it finished. Don’t panic if it drops below your intended OA during a stop, your MA will bring it back up between them, particularly early on in the ride. Know the minimum OA you need to finish the ride. If it drops too far below that pull out or be prepared to blow your bike up.
Trust your planning and OA. I left an hour up my sleeve at the end of the ride and didn’t use any of it. Perhaps half of that could have been used to extend the rest between days, particularly when Day 1 was spot on the plan.
Riding little bikes 3750kms in 49 hours hurts. If you don’t cope well with pain, don’t do it! I’m not going to do it again.
Here’s the map of the ride.